Self-reported drug use in Scottish prisons rises for first time since 2007

Written by Alan Robertson on 8 March 2016 in News

Latest survey shows proportion of prisoners reporting they have ever used illegal drugs in prison up five per cent between 2013 and 2015 

The number of prisoners who have reported using illegal drugs in Scotland’s jails has risen for the first time since 2007, new figures show.

Statistics from the latest Scottish Prisoner Survey show the number of prisoners reporting that they have ever used illegal drugs in prison rose five per cent between 2013 and 2015 to 43 per cent.

It comes after successive surveys showed self-reported drug use either declining or remaining static as the proportion taking illegal drugs dropped from 51 per cent in 2007 to 38 per cent in 2013.


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The increase – only the second to occur in the space of eight surveys since 2004 – comes despite the proportion of prisoners reporting they had used drugs in prison in the month prior to the survey being carried out dropping four per cent to 24 per cent.

Prison service analysts said some establishments have “experienced a reversal in fortune with rising drug consumption evident”. Nine Scottish prisons saw self-reported drug use rise between 2013 and 2015, according to a breakdown of figures.

Cannabis remains by far the most commonly used drug inside Scottish prisons, followed by subutex, benzodiazepines and heroin. Meanwhile, the proportion of prisoners who reported using so-called legal highs has risen in terms of use before entering prison and whilst in custody.  

Over a quarter (27 per cent) of prisoners had used novel psychoactive substances (NPS) before going into prison, according to the 2015 survey, up four per cent on two years earlier. One in ten (11 per cent) said they had used NPS in prison, up from eight per cent in 2013.  

The SPS said a range of security measures are in place to prevent the introduction of contraband into establishments with investment continuing to be made on new technology and staff training.

“While the number of those who said they had ever used illegal drugs in prison is up since the previous survey in 2013, overall since 2004 this figure has dropped from 55 per cent to 43 per cent and those who self-reported illegal drug use in the last month in prison is 24 per cent, which is down from the previous survey” said an SPS spokeswoman.

“The Addictions Prevalence Testing (APT) performance data results show that 70 per cent of prisoners tested on reception had illegal drugs in their system upon entry against 29 per cent on exit, demonstrating a reduction in prevalence of drug use of 41 per cent. SPS welcomes this significant reduction.”



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